Posts Tagged ‘plyometrics’

I’ve seen this topic covered on several other websites recently, but I’ve been saying this for years and I’ll say it again now: “Ladder and cone drills do not constitute speed training.”

I train a lot of young athletes for speed development, and 9 times out of 10, their parents will ask me why I don’t have their kids do more “speed work”, referring to things like ladder and cone drills. My response is simple: ladder drills aren’t speed work, and neither are cone drills. They improve coordination and footwork, but they do very little to improve sprinting speed.

So, if those two basic staples of “speed and agility training” are no good, how do we actually increase running speed? These 3 things are a good place to start:

1) Strength Training

When parents bring young athletes to me, one of the first things I evaluate is posterior chain strength. The posterior chain consists of the muscles in the back of the legs like the glutes and hamstrings, which control hip extension and knee flexion, respectively. Sprinting is accomplished primarily through powerful hip extension: the glutes extend the hips, causing the foot to push back after striking the ground, which causes the body to move forward. Many times, slower kids will exhibit weak or inhibited glute muscles, which dooms them to slowness from the get-go. If the muscles that make you move forward are weak, you have little chance of running fast. Improving glute function with deadlifts, hip thrusts, squats, and single leg variations is often the first step towards running faster.

However, just building strength is not enough, so next we move on to…

2) Power Training

“Power” is defined as force applied over time:

Where P=power, f=force, and T=time,

P=f/T

If I can apply 100 pounds of force, but it take me two seconds to reach that force, I would be less powerful than somebody who can apply 100 pounds of force in 1 second. Really, the point of strength training for speed is to increase our base of strength, which increases our power capacity.  Think about this:

If Athlete A has a maximum squat of 100 pounds, and Athlete B has a maximum squat of 200 lbs, then Athlete B has more strength, and therefore the potential to be more powerful than Athlete A. But, if Athlete A can apply his 100 pound max force twice as quickly as Athlete B can apply his 200 pound force, their power output is the same.

However, if Athlete B trains specifically to improve the speed at which he can apply his 200 lb force, he can theoretically produce twice as much power as Athlete A, since his strength base is twice what Athlete A is working with.

So what we need to increase sprinting speed is strong legs that are capable of applying high levels of force to the ground in a short amount of time. To increase the speed with which an athlete can apply force to the ground, we need to increase power.

Power training consists of exercises designed to increase athletes’ ability to produce high force quickly. For this, we use a combination of Rate of Force Development training and plyometric training, which are designed to teach your body how to generate powerful movements, and absorb and redirect energy. This is where kids start to get “bouncy.” Plyometrics exercises like skips and jumps can also teach athletes how to use their upper body better during running and jumping activities.

However, it is possible to be strong and powerful but still be a poor sprinter, which is why we have to do…

3) Mechanics Instruction

Some kids just do not know how to run properly. I don’t know how this happens. It seems like it should be written into our genetic code, but it just isn’t. Possibly because we don’t have to chase down our food and evade predators anymore (you don’t see wild animals with bad running mechanics). Regardless of the reason, nearly all of the athletes I train can benefit from some mechanical adjustments. For some college and high school athletes this can be the most important factor to increasing running speed. Often, these more advanced athletes already possess good strength and power, but they lack the proper running mechanics to put those attributes to good use. This kind of thing is also seen often with baseball pitchers. At a certain point, extra strength and power aren’t going to yield more than negligible gains on the field, so mechanics instruction is often more important for these high-level athletes. There are a multitude of drills you can do to improve running mechanics, none of which involve a “speed ladder.”

Video evaluation is also a great tool for improving sprint mechanics. It definitely helps for kids to be able to see what they’re doing right or wrong, so they can make adjustments ¬†easily.

That’s the basic process for speed development: develop strength, increase power, and fine-tune mechanics. There are other things that go into improving sprinting speed (hip mobility, core strength, shoulder strength, to name a few), but I find that the 3 things I’ve outlined here tend to be the 3 basic building blocks of speed. So if you want to get faster, throw that nylon ladder on the roof, grab a barbell, and hammer out some heavy hip thrusts.

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